Customer Service – November 29, 2020

It has finally happened:

“Brrng.  Brrng.  Click.  …For instructions in English, press two…”

In my own country, a country where most people speak something akin to English, voice communications in English is relegated to a second or third choice in automated Customer Service systems.  The automated voice assures me:

“Your call and your business are very important to us.  This call may be monitored for quality assurance.”        

The question presents: “What ‘quality’ assurance?”     

The person on the other end of the connection speaks English but not well enough to be understood by the average English-speaking caller.  This customer service person cannot be slowed down, made to enunciate, or to put together a coherent sentence from words not in the prepared script they read from.  Words for example, to answer a question instead of asking for the twelfth time a question that does not move the conversation toward solving the caller’s quandary.

The problem is not foreign nationals – from whatever county other than the United States – coming into the United States to work legally.  Quickly after these folks enter the workplace, they will speak the language passably.  Entertainingly, often charmingly for their accents. They become, with citizenship or not, citizens of the United States, participating in English and probably as frustrated as the next resident availing themselves of telephone customer service, unless the host outsource country is their home country.

A significant problem develops when foreign nationals in their home country purport to provide customer service to United States residents.  If customer support people cannot communicate effectively in English, they have no business on the other side of the line when I press “two” for English.  Note I didn’t say, perfect or good English.  Effective English.

A far larger problem is those here who made decisions to outsource customer service to foreign countries or use IVR1 in the first place.  In my dreams, I cannot conjure up sufficient punishment for these people.  They have saved their companies money.  To what end?  The result is a dissatisfied customer base, driving away the very customers the company depends upon to sustain business.  This is a saving?

Machines can do better?

Almost as great a disservice is done by automated voice-recognition systems.  What if menu options do not offer a function logically approaching callers’ needs?  Sadly, many automated systems do not hint at opportunity to speak with a real person, English speaking or not.  The caller is mired in an endless loop of menu options.

What a treat when some genius group has underpinned IVR with AI and speech synthesis!  In addition to inability to go right to the heart of the matter, one now must decode HAL’s meaning and intent.


How happy I have been on more than one occasion dealing with an IVR system, to finally reach a real person. I caution, nearly beg them to please not put me back to an automated system.  They reply:

“One moment please while I connect you.”

My “Thank you,” falls into a sterile electronic silence… The bubble bursts as sadly I next hear:

“Brrrt. Brrrt. Click.  Para instructiones en Espanol, deprimir uno. For instructions in English, press two…”

What’s a mother to do?

I believe it is time.  Time for every person who more than once a year struggles though customer service provided by foreign-based outsourcing and/or by a voice-recognition system poorly hobbled together with circular, inadequate menu options to act.  Make time to write offending companies and an arm of the federal government for consumers’ affairs.  I have not yet determined what ‘arm’ is appropriate.  When writing, one should openly ‘cc’ state and federal lawmakers, suggesting that if the “quality” of “customer service” and “concern” for “customer satisfaction” is demonstrated by this public persona, we can do better without it.  The company, that is.

Might be a good idea to suggest if the company does not remedy the situation, we won’t be patrons any longer.  Free negative advertising should be guaranteed as a bonus.  Why not?  These companies obviously care little for customers after the initial sale.  Let us generously help them move their entire operation including target market overseas or to a robot customer base. With no sales, there’ll be no need for some MBA to surmise that millions can be “saved” by outsourcing or automating.  The MBA then won’t get a huge bonus as a percentage of the “savings” before moving on to undermine another facet of the company while sales plummet because dissatisfied customers cease to be, well, customers

Lost customers and decreasing sales, thus reduced or non-existent profit are inevitable anyway, but hastening the process saves time as United States industry hurtles headlong into oblivion.

For me this is an ongoing, constantly evolving process to publish and attempt to prod United States-based companies to provide real customer service – service to the customer not to the short-term profitability of the company.  Almost daily, I ask others to join the effort.  Perhaps a groundswell of complaint will awaken someone at the top of “American” business to do an about-face.   Failing that, perhaps a new generation of “American” companies may be better educated to “taking care of the customer and letting the customer in turn take care of (their) businesses.”

In a different vein

Working through the oak file cabinet, sorting through drafts, ideas, half-noodled plots, bits, pieces, and snippets, I’m making progress.  There’s more there than I thought.  Most hasn’t been transcribed to electronic copy.  A lot won’t be, going directly into the round file that empties every trash day.

The biggest delay is censorship.  Not editing, so much, as toning-down language.  Not anger. Vernacular and color.  Predominately blue, if you get my drift.  Present count has six essentially complete pieces consigned to the electronic file where they will languish until I find a vehicle where the readership accepts stark reality, real life more often than folks care to admit seamier than Aunt Hilda allows imaginable.  Too bad.  Some sparkling humor there.

Here’s a bit of flavor.  A “conversation” piece ten years old, modestly edited, and toned-down.  Aunt Hilda, if she were on my mailing list, on reading it would unsubscribe, pack a bag, fly out here and give me a serious talking-to.

Horse Show” is a quick read for you dictaphobes, coming in at 320 words. It is mildly NSFW, Aunt Hilda.

1 IVR Interactive Voice Response

FF:10; WC:1000 mas o minos

Published by spwilcen

Retired career IT software engineer, or as we were called in the old days, programmer, it's time to empty my file cabinet of all the "creative" writing accumulated over the years - toss most of it, salvage and publish what is worthwhile.

13 thoughts on “Customer Service – November 29, 2020

  1. You realise that every time you say “united states”, you could certainly substitute that for UK, probably also Canada/Australia/NZ too. It’s a problem with the English language. Spanish is spoken in several countries, I wonder if there is a similar problem?

    1. The substitute thing, sure, but I’m writing from the US(of)A. I dunno if Spanish or French speaking countries experience the same (customer services) woes; suspect probably, but can’t write authoritatively there. The real issue is not language but the business-types bent on cutting costs with inferior goods and services. Non-native folk are doing the job they were hired to do. Thanks for the read and thoughts.

      1. Bear in mind, what you’re talking about is globalisation. The same process by which Amazon avoid paying their taxes. There are many benefits to the process but there are definite drawbacks, too.

      1. Well, good sir, that right there makes it all worthwhile. A few more comments to look at then I get to see what my fave bloggers have for me this morning.

    1. Aw, geeze. There is impossible, then there is IMPOSSIBLE! But you know, not that we shouldn’t try. If first we can clean-up politics, then we can start in on bureaucracy then we can look to fix…. Um. Oh. Never mind. Thanks for passing through.

  2. Many of the call centres that service us here in Spain are in other countries as well, especially in South America, and we’ve the same problem, not that they don’t speak Spanish, but it’s a different Spanish, not Castilian and sometimes the meanings and the idea behind the conversation gets confused and many people here refuse to speak with non-Spaniards. Frankly it is frustrating at times but I don’t blame the employees instead I blame the fact that globalism has created this, and many more problems, and we are trapped in their web. Thanks for a great post my friend. All the best.

    1. Thanks for looking-in and dropping a few meaningful words. Globalization yes, but that’s not bad, it’s the way we go about it. Do well today in the new week, sir. Regards, SPW

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